“Once I knew my dead presidents and I had become insufferable, I started to censor myself. There were a lot of get-togethers with friends where I didn’t hear what was being said because I was sitting there, silently chiding myself, Don’t bring up McKinley. Don’t bring up, McKinley.” - Assasination Vacation
About a minute into listening to Sarah Vowell read aloud her non-fiction work, Assassination Vacation, I almost turned it off. No way, I thought. I am not listening to this reedy, halting, high-pitched voice for eight hours. Then I actually listened to what Vowell was saying and I was hooked. Vowell’s voice may be quirky, but it so perfectly suited her subject material and writing style that I spent the next days trying to fit in listening time whenever I could. Here's the Goodreads synopsis:
Bestselling essayist and NPR contributor Sarah Vowell applies her charming, contrarian wit to an unlikely subject, as she leads us on a quirky tour of sites across the country associated with the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Along the way, she examines the landscape of American violence and unearths surprising connections between tourism and political murder.
Sarah Vowell is totally hysterical in an NPR-ish way (which is pretty much my favorite way). She is obviously a humorist and performer, but just because Assassination Vacation counts as light non-fiction does not mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. The book is obviously well researched, with tons of historical facts and odd bits of trivia. I've read a lot of Lincoln books, but Vowell's insights into what motivated Lincoln (and John Wilkes Booth) were thought-provoking. The majority of the book was spent on Lincoln, but I was surprised at how fascinating the McKinley and Garfield assassinations were, given that most Americans probably don't even know they were assassinated. The delivery, though, really makes this audio book stand out, and Vowell has lots of help with that – Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, Stephen King and Dave Eggers all voice various roles, and they balance out Vowell nicely.
I definitely recommend Assassination Vacation for amateur history buffs, David Sedaris fans, and people who just like weird stuff.
Length: 7 hours, 24 minutes
My rating: 4.5 stars out of 5